Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Monday, January 12, 2015

"Losing marijuana business, Mexican cartels push heroin and meth"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable lengthy new Washington Post article.  Here are excerpts:

Mexican traffickers are sending a flood of cheap heroin and methamphetamine across the U.S. border, the latest drug seizure statistics show, in a new sign that America’s marijuana decriminalization trend is upending the North American narcotics trade.

The amount of cannabis seized by U.S. federal, state and local officers along the boundary with Mexico has fallen 37 percent since 2011, a period during which American marijuana consumers have increasingly turned to the more potent, higher-grade domestic varieties cultivated under legal and quasi-legal protections in more than two dozen U.S. states.

Made-in-the-USA marijuana is quickly displacing the cheap, seedy, hard-packed version harvested by the bushel in Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains. That has prompted Mexican drug farmers to plant more opium poppies, and the sticky brown and black “tar” heroin they produce is channeled by traffickers into the U.S. communities hit hardest by prescription painkiller abuse, off­ering addicts a $10 alternative to $80-a-pill oxycodone.

“Legalization of marijuana for recreational use has given U.S. consumers access to high-quality marijuana, with genetically improved strains, grown in greenhouses,” said Raul Benitez-Manaut, a drug-war expert at Mexico’s National Autonomous University. “That’s why the Mexican cartels are switching to heroin and meth.” U.S. law enforcement agents seized 2,181 kilograms of heroin last year coming from Mexico, nearly three times the amount confiscated in 2009.

Methamphetamine, too, has surged, mocking the Hollywood image of backwoods bayou labs and “Breaking Bad” chemists. The reality, according to Drug Enforcement Administration figures, is that 90 percent of the meth on U.S. streets is cooked in Mexico, where precursor chemicals are far easier to obtain.

“The days of the large-scale U.S. meth labs are pretty much gone, given how much the Mexicans have taken over production south of the border and distribution into the United States,” said Lawrence Payne, a DEA spokesman. “Their product is far superior, cheaper and more pure.” Last year, 15,803 kilograms of the drug was seized along the border, up from 3,076 kilos in 2009....

Mexican cartels continue to deploy people as “mules” strapped with 50-pound marijuana backpacks to hike through the Arizona borderlands and send commercial trucks into Texas with bales of shrink-wrapped cannabis so big they need to be taken out on a forklift. But the profitability of the marijuana trade has slumped on falling demand for Mexico’s “brick weed,” so called because it is crushed into airtight bundles for transport across the border. Drug farmers in the Sierra Madre say that they can barely make money planting mota anymore....

The cartels, and consumers, are turning away from cocaine, too. Last year, U.S. agents confiscated 11,917 kilograms of cocaine along the Mexico border, down from 27,444 kilos in 2011. This reflects lower demand for the drug in the United States, experts say, as well as a cartel business preference for heroin and meth. Those two substances can be cheaply produced in Mexico, unlike cocaine, which is far pricier, and therefore riskier, because it must be smuggled from South America....

Heroin and meth are far easier to transport and conceal than marijuana. Especially worrisome to U.S. officials is a growing trend of more border-crossing pedestrians carrying the drugs strapped under their clothing or hidden in body cavities. “The criminals are trying to blend in among the legitimate travelers, who are 99 percent of the individuals crossing through here,” said Aki, the San Ysidro port director. “That’s the hard part for us.”...

In recent years, Mexican cartels also have begun producing higher-value “white” heroin, typically associated with traffickers from Colombia or Asia, according to DEA officials. “The Mexicans are evolving in their production abilities and getting more sophisticated,” said Payne, the DEA spokesman. “It’s not just black tar anymore.”...

The United States has an estimated 600,000 heroin users, Payne said — a threefold increase in the past five years. But that number is dwarfed by the estimated 10 million Americans who abuse prescription painkillers. Those addicts are the prime target for the booming heroin business. A U.S. crackdown on prescription opiates has driven up the price for drugs such as OxyContin and Percocet, enticing desperate addicts to switch to cheap heroin to fend off withdrawal symptoms.

The profile of U.S. heroin addiction is also changing, said Phil Herschman, chief clinical officer with the CRC Health Group, which operates 170 treatment centers in 30 U.S. states. “Now, we’re seeing housewives coming in who had been addicted to Vicodin for two or three years before switching to heroin, or adolescents who got hooked by snorting it, thinking it was safe, only to end up injecting themselves,” he said.

Advocates for marijuana reform frequently assert that legalization could and would help eliminate the profits reaped by drug cartels and the black market from illegal marijuana production and distribution. This article certainly provides support for this assertion.

January 12, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Rolling Stone details how marijuana reform is "leading a dramatic de-escalation in the War on Drugs"

DownloadThis astute, lengthy Rolling Stone article, headlined "The War on Drugs Is Burning Out," give special and justified attention to how modern marijuana reform is changing dramatically the modern drug was landscape. The full piece is a must-read, and here are excerpts:

The conservative wave of 2014 featured an unlikely, progressive undercurrent: In two states, plus the nation's capital, Americans voted convincingly to pull the plug on marijuana prohibition. Even more striking were the results in California, where voters overwhelmingly passed one of the broadest sentencing reforms in the nation, de-felonizing possession of hard drugs. One week later, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD announced an end to arrests for marijuana possession. It's all part of the most significant story in American drug policy since the passage of the 21st Amendment legalized alcohol in 1933: The people of this country are leading a dramatic de-escalation in the War on Drugs.

November's election results have teed up pot prohibition as a potent campaign issue for 2016. Notwithstanding the House GOP's contested effort to preserve pot prohibition in D.C., the flowering of the marijuana-legalization movement is creating space for a more rational and humane approach to adjudicating users of harder drugs, both on the state level and federally. "The door is open to reconsidering all of our drug laws," says Alison Holcomb, who led the pot-legalization push in Washington state in 2012, and has been tapped to direct the ACLU's new campaign against mass incarceration.

On the federal stage, the Justice Department continues to provide what Ethan Nadelmann, director of the Drug Policy Alliance, calls "a discreet form of leadership" on state experiments in drug reform – giving tax-and-regulate marijuana laws broad latitude, and even declaring that Native American tribal governments can also experiment with marijuana law, opening a path for recreational pot on reservations in, potentially, dozens of states. Congress, in the same legislation that sought to derail D.C. legalization, carved out historic protections from federal prosecution for state-legal medical-marijuana operations....

Top drug reformers had been wary about putting marijuana initiatives on midterm election ballots – worried that younger, pot-friendly voters might stay home, dealing the anti-Drug War movement a costly setback. "The midterm electorate in 2014 represented a wave of anti-progressive, pro-conservative voters," says the ACLU's Holcomb. Voters under 30 comprised just 12 percent of the national electorate, while voters over 60 – seniors are the one demographic that strongly opposes legalization – made up a whopping 37 percent. Nonetheless, each legalization measure passed, easily. In red-state Alaska, 53 percent endorsed legal pot. In Oregon, the tally was 56 percent – 35,000 more votes than any statewide elected official received. In Washington, D.C., legalization romped with 65 percent of the vote, carrying 142 out of the city's 143 precincts....

The issue of pot could prove more complicated on the presidential stage in 2016, where the big question, says Holcomb, is: "Will Democrats grab the issue as strongly as Rand Paul?"

Among likely 2016 contenders, of either party, the Kentucky senator is the most progressive on marijuana. He's sponsored legislation to make medical marijuana fully legal in states that have adopted it. In the last election, Paul championed the right of D.C. voters to decide on legalization for themselves. Paul has also been a vocal advocate for decriminalization, decrying the practice of booking kids for cannabis. "I don't want to encourage people to do it," he has said. "I think even marijuana is a bad thing to do. But I also don't want to put people in jail who make a mistake."

If Paul were to face off in a contest with Hillary Clinton, pot could emerge as an unlikely wedge issue for the Republican – particularly in libertarian-leaning swing states like Arizona and Nevada, where legalization initiatives are expected. That's because Clinton has continued to talk like a 1990s drug warrior, recently fretting over the dangers of marijuana edibles to children in Colorado, and even declaring that "the feds should be attuned to the way that marijuana is still used as a gateway drug."...

Regardless of the final presidential matchup, pot initiatives in battleground states will make it impossible for the 2016 candidates to ignore, or to simply laugh off, the marijuana issue as they've done so often in the past, says Tom Angell, chairman of the advocacy group Marijuana Majority. "The road to the White House," he says, "travels through legal-marijuana territory."

January 8, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Brookings highlights "Eight Big Things to Watch" concerning marijuana policy in 2015

Via e-mail, I was alerted to this Brookings FixGov blog post by Brookings Fellow John Hudak titled "Marijuana Policy in 2015: Eight Big Things to Watch." The e-mail provided this helpful summary of various points made in the longer posting:

1)    Oregon, Alaska Plan & Prepare for Legal Marijuana: How well each of these state legislatures and alcohol regulatory bodies work together will determine the success or failure of marijuana policy in these states. As it borders Washington, Oregon’s commercial and regulatory choices will be particularly crucial in understanding to what extent states may strive for market advantages vis-à-vis bordering states.

2)    Identifying the Next States to Legalize: 2015 will show which states are serious about ballot initiatives in 2016.  It’s widely expected that California will advance an initiative and Florida might take another swing at approving medical marijuana, after falling just short of approval in 2014.

3)    Cannabis Policy & State Legislative Action: In some states, the battleground for enacting items like the legalization of recreational or medical marijuana is not the ballot box, but the state legislature.

4)    Cannabis & the Courts: Multiple high-profile lawsuits surrounding marijuana policy may play out in 2015.  For instance, Coats v. Dish Network may settle the issue of employer-sponsored marijuana testing and a Supreme Court case involving Nebraska and Oklahoma’s suing of Colorado over legalizing marijuana will indicate the willingness of federal courts to engage in this policy area.

5)    Answers to Questions About D.C.’s Marijuana Policy:  Clarity about the future of marijuana policy in Washington, D.C. will almost surely be left to the federal courts, particularly if there is congressional inaction on Initiative 71.

6)    Colorado & Washington (& Uruguay) Continue Legalization: InColorado, edibles, product testing, and homegrows will be on the agenda.  The policy challenge Washington faces is that legal weed could be too costly to lure consumers from the black market.  On the international front, Uruguay works hard to ready a bureaucracy and a consumer base for the experiment.

7)    Data, Data, Data: One key takeaway for policy advocates, both supporters and opponents, will be to patiently wait to draw conclusions as the data are currently incomplete and imperfect.  2015 will offer steady flows of data from Colorado and Washington, and eventually other states.

8)    Presidential Candidates & Cannabis: Marijuana policy will definitely be part of the 2016 conversation in a way that it has not in previous presidential campaigns. And the issue will be particularly interesting to watch as it does not fall neatly along party lines.

I think points 7 and 8 are the most interesting, dynamic and unpredictable stories to watch from among this list. I would also add to the list...

9) Political Party leaders and Pot Policy:  Key leaders of both parties inside and outside the Beltway have, to date, said relatively little about marijuana reform. Cautious "establishment" politicians --- ranging from Prez Obama to Hillary Clinton to Jerry Brown on the D side and from Mitch McConnell to John Boehner to Mitt Romney on the GOP side --- will only be able to dodge the new terms of the modern policy debate for so long.

January 8, 2015 in Current Affairs, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 24, 2014

"Merry Marijuana: Pot Sellers Woo Holiday Shoppers"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new AP article.  Here are excerpts:

From new marijuana strains for the holidays to gift sets and pot-and-pumpkin pies, the burgeoning marijuana industry in Colorado is scrambling to get a piece of the holiday shopping dollar.  Dispensaries in many states have been offering holiday specials for medical customers for years — but this first season of open-to-all-adults marijuana sales in some states means pot shops are using more of the tricks used by traditional retailers to attract holiday shoppers....

The Grass Station in Denver is selling an ounce of marijuana for $50 — about a fifth of the cost of the next-cheapest strain at the Colorado dispensary — to the first 16 customers in line Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  That works out to less than $1 a joint for the ambitious early-rising pot shopper.  Owner Ryan Fox says his Black Friday pot is decent quality, and says he's selling below cost to attract attention and pick up some new customers....

Sweets and marijuana seem to go together like hot chocolate and marshmallows. Many dispensaries this time of year resemble a Starbucks at the mall, with holiday spices and festive music in the air.  One of the state's largest edible-pot makers, Sweet Grass Kitchen, debuted a new miniature pumpkin pie that delivers about as much punch as a medium-sized joint.  The pie joins holiday-spiced teas, minty pot confections and cannabis-infused honey oil for those who want to bake their own pot goodies at home.

Even some edibles makers that specialize in savory foods, not sweets, are putting out some sugary items for the holidays. "It just tastes too good, we had to do it," Better Baked owner Deloise Vaden said of her company's holiday line of cannabis-infused sweet-potato and pumpkin pies....

Colorado Harvest and Evergreen Apothecary timed the release of some top-shelf strains of potent pot for the holiday season. Spokeswoman Ann Dickerson says they're "sort of like the best bourbon or Scotch that will be competing on quality, rather than price."...

For the shopper who wants to give pot but doesn't know how the recipient likes to get high, Colorado's 300 or so recreational dispensaries so far have been able to issue only handwritten gift certificates. That's because banking regulations prohibit major credit cards companies from being able to back marijuana-related gift cards the way they do for other retailers.

Just this month, a Colorado company started offering pot shops a branded gift card they can sell just like other retailers. The cards are in eight Denver dispensaries so far, and coming soon will be loyalty cards similar to grocery-store loyalty cards that track purchases and can be used to suggest sales or new products to frequent shoppers.

November 24, 2014 in Food and Drink, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

NY Times debates "Is ‘Big Marijuana’ Inevitable?"

I am intrigued and pleased to see that the Room for Debate section of the New York Times has gathered some of the leading advocates in the marijuana reform debate to discuss whether and how marijuana reform ought to proceed. Here is the section's set up:

It looks like the use of recreational marijuana is heading down the path of legalization across the country. Voters in Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia approved legalizing measures on Nov. 4, but with key differences. The District of Columbia, for instance, will repeal all criminal and civil penalties for personal possession and allow limited, private cultivation of the drug. Oregon on the other hand would give its Liquor Control Commission the power to regulate marijuana as it does alcohol.

Some say a profit-driven model for legalization runs the risk of increasing marijuana use, while others argue that a regulated market is the best way to keep use safe for consumers. What’s the right approach to legalizing recreational marijuana?

Here are the contributions, with links via the commentary titles:

November 18, 2014 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

New polling suggests now declining support for legalization of marijuana

As highlighted in this Washington Post Wonkblog piece, headlined "Survey: Support for legal weed drops 7 points in the past year," a few recent polls suggest a reversal of recent trends of growing support for marijuana legalization. Here are excerpts from the report (with key links preserved, and my emphasis added):

National support for legalized marijuana has slipped by seven percentage points in the past year, from 51 percent in 2013 to 44 percent today, according to the Public Religion Research InstitutePRRI asked 4,500 Americans about the intensity of their support for or opposition to legalizing marijuana.  The year-over-year drop in overall support was concentrated among those who favored marijuana legalization last year, but not strongly.  Opposition increased greatest among those who strongly opposed legal marijuana.

These numbers suggest that people who only slightly supported legalization last year have changed their minds, and that people who slightly opposed legalization now feel more strongly about it....

An October 2013 Gallup poll found strong support for marijuana legalization nationally, with 58 percent in favor and 39 percent opposed.  The PRRI and Gallup numbers are not directly comparable, since the questions were worded differently in each survey.  Moreover, survey responses on marijuana legalization tend to be highly sensitive to particular question wording.

Still, the year-over-year drop within this one poll is significant and well outside the poll's 1.8 point margin of error.  If other surveys show similar findings, it could mean that Americans generally don't like the news coming out of Colorado and Washington - even if that news has been largely positive.

I have emphasized an important line in this discussion of this latest poll data because I think all polling on marijuana reform can be subject to a lot of varied responses among a significant number of folks who are not strongly for or strongly against reform in principle.  Thus, I tend to view polling on specific ballot proposals in specific states as more important than broad national polls on these matters.  But every bit for data about public opinion on this fast-evolving issue is still notable and potentially consequential.

September 23, 2014 in Current Affairs, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

In new ad campaign, "Marijuana Industry Battling Stoner Stereotypes"

Crprintad_sep2014bThe title of this post is drawn from the headline of this notable new AP article.  Here are excerpts:

Tired of Cheech & Chong pot jokes and ominous anti-drug campaigns, the marijuana industry and activists are starting an ad blitz in Colorado aimed at promoting moderation and the safe consumption of pot. To get their message across, they are skewering some of the old Drug War-era ads that focused on the fears of marijuana, including the famous "This is your brain on drugs" fried-egg ad from the 1980s.

They are planning posters, brochures, billboards and magazine ads to caution consumers to use the drug responsibly and warn tourists and first-timers about the potential to get sick from accidentally eating too much medical-grade pot. "So far, every campaign designed to educate the public about marijuana has relied on fear-mongering and insulting marijuana users," said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, the nation's biggest pot-policy advocacy group.

The MPP plans to unveil a billboard on Wednesday on a west Denver street where many pot shops are located that shows a woman slumped in a hotel room with the tagline: "Don't let a candy bar ruin your vacation." It's an allusion to Maureen Dowd, a New York Times columnist who got sick from eating one on a visit to write about pot.

The campaign is a direct response to the state's post-legalization marijuana-education efforts. One of them is intended to prevent stoned driving and shows men zoning out while trying to play basketball, light a grill or hang a television. Many in the industry said the ads showed stereotypical stoners instead of average adults.

Even more concerning to activists is a youth-education campaign that relies on a human-sized cage and the message, "Don't Be a Lab Rat," along with warnings about pot and developing brains. The cage in Denver has been repeatedly vandalized. At least one school district rejected the traveling exhibit, saying it was well-intentioned but inappropriate.

"To me, that's not really any different than Nancy Reagan saying 'Just Say No,'" said Tim Cullen, co-owner of four marijuana dispensaries and a critic of the "lab rat" campaign, referring to the former first lady's effort to combat drug use....

The advocacy ads tackle anti-drug messaging from year past. Inside pictures of old TV sets are images from historic ads. Along with the fried-egg one is an image from one ad of a father finding his son's drug stash and demanding to know who taught him to use it. The kid answers: "You, all right! I learned it by watching you!"

The print ad concludes, "Decades of fear-mongering and condescending anti-marijuana ads have not taught us anything about the substance or made anyone safer." It then directs viewers to consumeresposibly.org, which is patterned after the alcohol industry's "Drink Responsibly" campaign.

September 17, 2014 in Current Affairs, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"Washington's Marijuana Legalization Grows Knowledge, Not Just Pot"

The title of this post is the title of this terrific new Brookings research paper which takes a close look at Washington state’s early experience in legalization of recreational marijuana. Here is how the report is summarized on the Brookings website:

Voters in Washington state decided in November 2012 to legalize marijuana in their state, inspired by a campaign that emphasized minimizing the drug’s social costs and tightly controlling the legal recreational market. Joined to this drug policy experiment is a second innovative experiment that emphasizes knowledge: the state will fund and develop tools necessary to understand the impact of legalization on Washington’s law enforcement officials, communities, and public health.

This second reform, though less heralded than the attention-grabbing fact of legalization, is in many ways just as bold. Washington’s government is taking its role as a laboratory of democracy very seriously, tuning up its laboratory equipment and devoting resources to tracking its experiment in an unusually meticulous way, with lessons that extend well beyond drug policy.

Brookings’ Philip Wallach interviewed advocates, researchers, and government policymakers in Washington to learn about the state’s novel approach. In this report, he highlights several noteworthy features:

  • Building a funding source for research directly into the law: a portion of the excise tax revenues from marijuana sales will fund research on the reform’s effects and on how its social costs can be effectively mitigated.
  • Bringing to bear many perspectives on legalization by coordinating research efforts across multiple state agencies, including the Department of Social and Health Services, the Department of Health, and the Liquor Control Board.
  • Mandating a cost-benefit analysis by the state’s in-house think tank, which will be nearly unprecedented in its scope and duration.

Wallach makes a number of suggestions to ensure that Washington’s knowledge experiment can be made to work, including:

  • Ensure political independence for researchers, both by pressuring politicians to allow them to do their work and by encouraging the researchers themselves to refrain from making political recommendations
  • Gather and translate research into forms usable by policymakers
  • Counter misinformation with claims of confident uncertainty
  • Have realistic expectations about the timeline for empirical learning, which means cultivating patience over the next few years
  • Specify which reliable metrics would indicate success or failure of legalization

August 26, 2014 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

"Medical Marijuana Research Hits Wall of U.S. Law"

Shutterstock_93947695The title of this post is the headline of this front-page New York Times article.  Here are excerpts:

Nearly four years ago, Dr. Sue Sisley, a psychiatrist at the University of Arizona, sought federal approval to study marijuana’s effectiveness in treating military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.   She had no idea how difficult it would be.

The proposal, which has the support of veterans groups, was hung up at several regulatory stages, requiring the research’s private sponsor to resubmit multiple times. After the proposed study received final approval in March from federal health officials, the lone federal supplier of research marijuana said it did not have the strains the study needed and would have to grow more — potentially delaying the project until at least early next year.

Then, in June, the university fired Dr. Sisley, later citing funding and reorganization issues.   But Dr. Sisley is convinced the real reason was her outspoken support for marijuana research.   “They could never get comfortable with the idea of this controversial, high-profile research happening on campus,” she said.

Dr. Sisley’s case is an extreme example of the obstacles and frustrations scientists face in trying to study the medical uses of marijuana.  Dating back to 1999, the Department of Health and Human Services has indicated it does not see much potential for developing marijuana in smoked form into an approved prescription drug....

Scientists say this position has had a chilling effect on marijuana research.  Though more than one million people are thought to use the drug to treat ailments ranging from cancer to seizures to hepatitis C and chronic pain, there are few rigorous studies showing whether the drug is a fruitful treatment for those or any other conditions.  A major reason is this:  The federal government categorizes marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, the most restrictive of five groups established by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.  Drugs in this category — including heroin, LSD, peyote and Ecstasy — are considered to have no accepted medical use in the United States and a high potential for abuse, and are subject to tight restrictions on scientific study.

In the case of marijuana, those restrictions are even greater than for other controlled substances....  To obtain the drug legally, researchers like Dr. Sisley must apply to the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse — which, citing a 1961 treaty obligation, administers the only legal source of the drug for federally sanctioned research, at the University of Mississippi.  Dr. Sisley’s proposed study also had to undergo an additional layer of review from the Public Health Service that is not required for other controlled substances in such research.

The process is so cumbersome that a growing number of elected state officials, medical experts and members of Congress have started calling for loosening the restrictions.  In June, a letter signed by 30 members of Congress, including four Republicans, called the extra scrutiny of marijuana projects “unnecessary,” saying that research “has often been hampered by federal barriers.”

“It defies logic in this day and age that marijuana is still in Schedule 1 alongside heroin and LSD when there is so much testimony to what relief medical marijuana can bring,” Gov. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island said in an interview.  In late 2011, he and the governor of Washington at the time, Christine O. Gregoire, filed a petition asking the federal government to place the drug in a lower category.  The petition is still pending with the D.E.A.

Despite the mounting push, there is little evidence that either Congress or the Obama administration will change marijuana’s status soon.  In public statements, D.E.A. officials have made their displeasure known about states’ legalizing medical and recreational marijuana.

August 10, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

"Medical Marijuana Laws and Teen Marijuana Use"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new Working Paper coming from the non-profit National Bureau of Economic Research authored by D. Mark Anderson, Benjamin Hansen and Daniel Rees. Here is the abstract:

While at least a dozen state legislatures in the United States have recently considered bills to allow the consumption of marijuana for medicinal purposes, the federal government is intensifying its efforts to close medical marijuana dispensaries.  Federal officials contend that the legalization of medical marijuana encourages teenagers to use marijuana and have targeted dispensaries operating within 1,000 feet of schools, parks and playgrounds.  Using data from the national and state Youth Risk Behavior Surveys, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 and the Treatment Episode Data Set, we estimate the relationship between medical marijuana laws and marijuana use.  Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that legalization leads to increased use of marijuana by teenagers.

August 3, 2014 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Interesting history as New York Times highlights its "the Editorial Board's changing view of marijuana over six decades"

As part of its new editorial series in support of repealing marijuana prohibition (basics here), the New York Times has this fascinating page titled "Evolving on Marijuana," which provides key quotes from key editorials about marijuana law and policy over the last 50 years. Here are some of the highlights of this interesting history:

1966:  Experience has tragically demonstrated that marijuana is not "harmless."... For a considerable number of young people who try it, it is the first step down the fateful road to heroin.

1969:  The law should surely make a distinction between soft and hard drugs.... For the nation to lapse merely into a simplistic crack-down in reaction to the terribly complicated drug problem would only be, in its own way, to freak out."

1969: Simple possession of LSD ... calls for a maximum sentence of only one year, as against ten for marijuana.... The discrepancy is as glaring as it is absurd. How will anyone know what the restriction on marijuana should be until there is the kind of objective, authoritative report that has been called for by Senator Moss of Utah and Representative Koch of New York?

1970: The nation deserves better answers to the questions about pot. Is it really harmful? Should the law continue to treat it in the same manner as heroin? ... Few substances have been so flatly banned and yet so widely used as marijuana, so much discussed and yet so little researched.

1971: Marijuana is not a “narcotic”... At the same time, it is a dangerous drug.... if marijuana is dangerous, the law must reflect this fact. The subcommittee’s report wisely suggests that both use and sale should remain criminal offenses, although punishable by reduced penalties, especially in the case of first-time offenders and experimenters.

1972:  ... the dangers inherent in smoking marijuana appear to be less than previously assumed. ... What is immediately called for is a sharp scaling down of marijuana penalties, elimination of criminal sanctions for its use or possession and reduction of penalties for its small-quantity sales. A failure of legislatures to base legal sanctions on the best medical evidence available can only undermine respect for the law.

1978:  Marijuana shows great, but not fully proven, potential as a therapeutic agent. ... Marijuana boosters want it legalized immediately for widespread medical use. That would be premature. The need now is for accelerated research to define its medical value. Yet progress has been greatly slowed by the drug's lingering notoriety.

1982:  The sweet-acrid scent of marijuana is everywhere these days... According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, roughly 30 million Americans smoke it regularly. ... Like it or not, marijuana is here to stay. Some day, some way, a prohibition so unenforceable and so widely flouted must give way to reality.

1996:  It is difficult to dismiss the testimony from many seriously ill patients ... that marijuana can ease pain... ... It ought to be possible to regulate marijuana as a prescription drug if it is found to be of legitimate benefit for sick people.

2012:  Millions of people have been arrested under the policy for minor violations, like possession of small amounts of marijuana. And one thing is beyond dispute: this arrest-first policy has filled the courts to bursting with first-time, minor offenders who do not belong there and wreaked havoc with people's lives.

2013:  On marijuana policy, there’s a rift between the federal government and the states. … The Justice Department has taken a step toward figuring out this peculiar dance between the federal government and the states. If it wants its “trust but verify” approach to work, it will have to start filling in the details.

2013:  Assuming the argument that alcohol and marijuana are “substitutes” bears out, that could be good news, especially for road safety. Of the two substances, alcohol is far more hazardous. For the most part, marijuana-intoxicated drivers show only modest impairments on road tests. Several studies have suggested that drivers under the influence of marijuana actually overestimate their impairment.

2014:  On New Year’s Day, government-licensed recreational marijuana shops opened in Colorado ... Later in 2014, marijuana retailers will open in Washington State.  As public opinion shifts away from prohibition, these two states will serve as test cases for full-on legalization.

July 30, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

New York Times now advocating: "Repeal Prohibition, Again"

NYTThe title of this post is the headline in this (historic?) new New York Times editorial calling for the legalization of marijuana.  Here are excerpts:

It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.

The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.

We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times’s Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws.

There are no perfect answers to people’s legitimate concerns about marijuana use. But neither are there such answers about tobacco or alcohol, and we believe that on every level — health effects, the impact on society and law-and-order issues — the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization. That will put decisions on whether to allow recreational or medicinal production and use where it belongs — at the state level.

We considered whether it would be best for Washington to hold back while the states continued experimenting with legalizing medicinal uses of marijuana, reducing penalties, or even simply legalizing all use. Nearly three-quarters of the states have done one of these.

But that would leave their citizens vulnerable to the whims of whoever happens to be in the White House and chooses to enforce or not enforce the federal law.

The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.

There is honest debate among scientists about the health effects of marijuana, but we believe that the evidence is overwhelming that addiction and dependence are relatively minor problems, especially compared with alcohol and tobacco....

There are legitimate concerns about marijuana on the development of adolescent brains. For that reason, we advocate the prohibition of sales to people under 21.

Creating systems for regulating manufacture, sale and marketing will be complex. But those problems are solvable, and would have long been dealt with had we as a nation not clung to the decision to make marijuana production and use a federal crime.

In coming days, we will publish articles by members of the Editorial Board and supplementary material that will examine these questions. We invite readers to offer their ideas, and we will report back on their responses, pro and con.

We recognize that this Congress is as unlikely to take action on marijuana as it has been on other big issues. But it is long past time to repeal this version of Prohibition.

In addition, today's New York Times has these related signed editorial pieces to kick off its series of coverage:

July 27, 2014 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Highlighting the short bench of those crusading against marijuana reform

The Washington Post has this interesting article which highlights some reasons why I tend to think marijuana reform movements will continue to gain steam.   The article is headlined "The lonely lot of the anti-pot crusader," and here are excerpts:

Parents [against drug reforms], once heroes of the just-say-no 1980s, find themselves outgunned: The anti-marijuana movement has little funding or staff, little momentum and, it appears, little audience.

Decriminalization went into effect last week in the District, setting a $25 penalty for possession of up to an ounce of weed.  Earlier in July, pro-marijuana activists scored another victory, submitting 57,000 voter signatures, more than double the number required, to bring the ballot measure, which could add the District to the vanguard of legalization along with Colorado and Washington state....

“Interestingly, whenever we have a debate on TV, we hear the producer asking, ‘Who can we get to debate against marijuana?’ ” says Tony Newman, spokesman for the reformist Drug Policy Alliance.   The cable-show bookers’ “con” choices are indeed scant.

“It’s unbelievable what’s happened,” says Robert DuPont, a psychiatrist who was the first director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse in the 1970s.  “You can’t find anybody to speak on the other side. . . . The leaders in both parties have completely abandoned the issue.”

DuPont, an addiction specialist, could hold his own in any debate about drugs.  He and other experts point to research showing that 9 percent of marijuana users become addicted, a figure that rises to 16 percent when use begins in teen years.  In various studies, weed also is linked to lower academic performance and mental illness and other health problems.

The marijuana normalization movement bats back such findings by citing the devastating results of alcohol and tobacco dependency and abuse, for example, and the palliative effects of marijuana as medicine.  And they say the disproportionately higher rate of minorities’ arrests and incarceration for pot-related offenses have caused greater social harm — which became a major selling point for decriminalization in the District.

Backed by deep-pocketed funders, the legalizers deploy lobbyists, spokesmen and researchers from well-staffed organizations like the Marijuana Policy Project, the Drug Policy Alliance, Americans for Safe Access and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).  They even have their own business alliance: the National Cannabis Industry Association.

“These guys are in a full-court press coming at you from every angle,” says DuPont, 78, who runs the small, Rockville-based Institute for Behavior and Health. He sounds exasperated. “They have a bench 1,000 people deep. . . . We’ve got Kevin Sabet.”

Sabet, 35, first testified before the Senate against drug legalization when he was 17 and now runs an anti-pot-legalization group called Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM). Last year he made No. 1 on Rolling Stone’s “Legalization’s Biggest Enemies” list.  “Do we want a stoned America?” asks Sabet, who has served drug czars in the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations.  “Is that where we want to go at a time when America’s place in the world, in terms of academic and economic competitiveness, is greatly threatened? Good luck.”

Based in Cambridge, Mass., Sabet says he commits “100-plus hours a week” to raising the alarm and has help from SAM affiliates in 27 states.  People who still see grass as “a harmless giggle in our basement” are ignoring the “Wall Street sharks” hoping to profit from a nationwide cannabis industry as large and powerful as the booze or tobacco businesses, he says. Sabet predicts increases in buzzed driving and health problems.

But such arguments clearly have not stopped the other side’s momentum.  “Woeful Kevin” is what Allen St. Pierre, NORML’s executive director, calls Sabet.  “I feel blessed by someone like Kevin,” St. Pierre says.  “Since he has come on the scene we have prevailed, prevailed, prevailed. We could use 500 Kevins.”...

Promoting a message of compassion for the sick, medical marijuana advocates led the way in the 1990s to a more accepting public view toward recreational pot.  The number of pro-pot groups began to surge.  “It’s our fault,” Sabet admits, but he cites one mitigating factor.  “They have money and we don’t.”

Still, other forces explain why reform has caught on now, including supportive baby boomer voters; a lingering recession that dampened government revenue, making the taxation of marijuana tempting; and an overwhelming public view that alcohol prohibition was a “great failed experiment,” St. Pierre says.  In addition, the Obama administration decided not to challenge legalization in Washington and Colorado and to allow banks to do business with legal marijuana sellers.

“This is like gay marriage,” St. Pierre argues.  “Twenty years ago if you voted for it you were a loser; now 20 years later, if you vote against it you’re a loser.”  In the District, the legalizers are predicting success.  Sabet’s group decided against challenging the signatures gathered for the ballot initiative: “We are picking our battles,” he says.

July 24, 2014 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Lines form to greet start legal recreation marijuana sales in Washington

WapotAs reported in this AP article, headlined "Line forms early, trucks deliver goods as Washington’s legal pot sales start," today officially kicks off legal recreational marijuana sales in a second US state. Here are the basics:

Marijuana growers loaded trucks with boxes of packaged pot on Tuesday as lines of customers grew outside a handful of stores poised to be the first to sell recreational cannabis legally in Washington state.

“I voted for it, and I’m just so excited to see it come to be in my lifetime,” said Deb Greene, a 65-year-old retiree who waited all night outside Cannabis City, the only licensed shop in Seattle. “I’m not a heavy user; I’m just proud of our state for giving this a try.”

Tuesday’s start of legal pot sales in Washington marks a major step that’s been 20 months in the making. Washington and Colorado stunned much of the world by voting in November 2012 to legalize marijuana for adults over 21, and to create state-licensed systems for growing, selling and taxing the pot. Sales began in Colorado on Jan. 1.

The final days before sales have been frenetic for growers and retailers alike throughout Washington. Cannabis City owner James Lathrop and his team hired an events company to provide crowd control, arranged for a food truck and free water for those who might spend hours waiting outside, and rented portable toilets to keep his customers from burdening nearby businesses with requests to use the restrooms.

Store openings are expected to be accompanied by high prices, shortages and celebration. As soon as the stores were notified Monday, they began working to place their orders with some of the state’s first licensed growers. Once the orders were received through state-approved software for tracking the bar-coded pot, the growers placed their products in a required 24-hour “quarantine” before shipping it Tuesday morning.

Sea of Green Farms co-owner Bob Leeds got an early start Tuesday as he loaded about seven pounds of marijuana into boxes for a drive to Bellingham and delivery to the Top Shelf Cannabis store in time for its 8 a.m. opening. The pot was packaged in 1 gram plastic bags. An AP survey of licensees awarded by Washington state to store owners showed that only about six planned to open Tuesday, including two stores in Bellingham, one in Seattle, one in Spokane, one in Prosser and one in Kelso. Some were set to open later this week or next, while others said it could be a month or more before they could acquire marijuana to sell.

Officials eventually expect to have more than 300 recreational pot shops across the state. Pot prices were expected to reach $25 a gram or higher on the first day of sales — twice what people pay in the state’s unregulated medical marijuana dispensaries. That was largely due to the short supply of legally produced pot in the state. Although more than 2,600 people applied to become licensed growers, fewer than 100 have been approved — and only about a dozen were ready to harvest by early this month.

Nevertheless, John Evich, an investor in Bellingham’s Top Shelf Cannabis, said his shop wanted to thank the state’s residents for voting for the law by offering $10 grams of one cannabis strain to the first 50 or 100 customers. The other strains would be priced between $12 and $25, he said.

July 8, 2014 in Current Affairs, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Another new chapter for marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington getting underway

The second half of 2014 brings notable new developments in both Colorado and Washington, as detailed in these two notable press reports:

"Colorado recreational marijuana industry begins major transformation":

Only six months old, Colorado's recreational marijuana industry starts a transformation Tuesday that could add hundreds of new pot businesses to the state and reconfigure the market's architecture.

Previously, only owners of existing medical marijuana shops could apply to open recreational stores, and all businesses had to be generalists, growing the pot that they sold. The model matches what is required of medical marijuana dispensaries.

Starting Tuesday, newcomers to the industry can apply for recreational marijuana business licenses. What's more, when these new businesses begin opening in October, all recreational marijuana companies will be allowed to specialize — as wholesale growers without a storefront, for instance, or as stand-alone stores that don't grow their supply. The only requirement is that owners be Colorado residents.

"We are going into uncharted territory," said Sam Kamin, a University of Denver law professor who has tracked developments in Colorado's marijuana industry. "It's something that hasn't happened in medical (marijuana), and it hasn't happened in recreational."

"Bumpy road for marijuana legalization in Washington"

Pete O'Neil saw Washington's legalization of marijuana in 2012 as a path to retirement, or at least to his kids' college tuition. He's paid tens of thousands of dollars of rent on possible locations for a pot-shop chain, hired lawyers and picked out flooring. But now the nation's second legal recreational marijuana industry is about to start without him.

O'Neil struck out in Washington's lottery for coveted pot-shop licenses. He has unsuccessfully tried to buy companies that scored a lucky number. In frustration, he's turning what would have been his Seattle retail store into a medical marijuana dispensary. "Our company is bleeding money, and I haven't sold a single joint," O'Neil says.

As Washington plows toward the legalization of pot, it's finding that getting the cannabis market off the ground has been tougher than anyone imagined. Among the frustrated are growers who have been waiting months for permission to start raising their bar-coded plants; advocates who wish more public health messaging had been done by now; and would-be pot vendors like O'Neil who say bad luck, minor oversights on their applications or errors by state officials have torpedoed otherwise promising efforts.

Washington's Liquor Control Board expects to issue the first 15 to 20 marijuana retail licenses July 7, months later than first expected, but it's not clear how many of those shops are ready. Board staff members said last week only one shop in Seattle is prepared for its final inspection.

July 2, 2014 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"The DEA: Four Decades of Impeding And Rejecting Science"

Logo_headerThe title of this post is the title of this notable new report from the Drug Policy Alliance.  Here is an excerpt from the report's executive summary:

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is charged with enforcing federal drug laws. Under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, its powers include the authority to schedule drugs (alongside other federal agencies) and to license facilities for the production and use of scheduled drugs in federally-approved research. Those powers are circumscribed by a statute that requires the agency to make its determinations based on scientific data.

The case studies compiled in this report illustrate a decades-long pattern of behavior that demonstrates the agency's inability to exercise its responsibilities in a fair and impartial manner or to act in accord with the scientific evidence – often as determined by its Administrative Law Judges.

The following case studies are included in this report:

  • DEA Obstructs Marijuana Rescheduling: Part One, 1973-1994
  • DEA Overrules Administrative Law Judge to Classify MDMA as Schedule I, 1985
  • DEA Obstructs Marijuana Rescheduling: Part Two, 1995-2001
  • DEA Overrules Administrative Law Judge to Protect Federal Monopoly on Marijuana for Research, 2001-2013
  • DEA Obstructs Marijuana Rescheduling: Part Three, 2002-2013

These case studies reveal a number of DEA practices that work to maintain the existing, scientifically unsupported drug scheduling system and to obstruct research that might alter current drug schedules.

June 11, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Big Tobacco Liked/Likes Marijuana

Haven't you wondered about the tobacco industry's attitude toward/ involvement in marketing marijuana?   I have  especially now because there seems to be  an inverse relationship between attitudes toward tobacco use and attitudes toward marijuana use.

A study released today by the Milbank Quarterly provides a historical answer to this question and a public health warning.  Based on a search of a library of tobacco company documents, the researchers concluded that "since at least the 1970s, tobacco companies have been interested in marijuana and marijuana legalization as both a potential and a rival product." The conclusion warns that "legislators, regulators and members of the public must take into account that multinational tobacco companies are prepared to enter the market with incentives to increase the use of the drug."  Hmm.  What lessons should marijuana legalization take from tobacco regulation? Which lessons don't apply?

June 3, 2014 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 26, 2014

"Legalization Conflicts and Reliance Defenses"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new and timely paper by Mary Fan now available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

This article addresses an open question of pressing practical import – whether people and businesses operating in the shadow of a legalization conflict have a reliance defense.  A legalization conflict arises when conduct is decriminalized by one authority while remaining criminalized under another legal regime.  For example, drugs, guns, undocumented immigrants, and giving legal advice or financial support for certain activities, may be both illegal and legal under conflicting regimes. People plan their lives, hopes and financial affairs around legalization laws and decrees.  If people take actions now in reliance, will they face sanctions later?  The question is of great import for many people and businesses, as well as the lawyers who advise them.

The article argues that reliance defenses should be available when governmental actors in charge of enforcing the criminal regime expressly acquiesce in the competing legalization.  In such cases, reliance is reasonable and estoppel is required lest people or businesses be lulled by the statements of actors charged with administering the law into a snare of sanctions.  Potential objections regarding privileging governmental lawlessness and the danger of giving people a normative choice of law that enables strategic gamesmanship are addressed.

May 26, 2014 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 5, 2014

Happy Cinco de Mayo or Today's Marijuana History Lesson

 

This year we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the La Guardia Committee report on “The Marihuana Problem in the City of New York.”  To mark this anniversary, the Drug Policy Alliance and the New York Academy of Medicine, which participated in the original report, held a conference on the Past, Present and Future of Marijuana Policies in New York . My day job kept me from attending; anyone who did please skip to the end of this  post and comment on what occurred.

As many readers of this blog post probably know, the La Guardia Report, released during the “Reefer Madness” period of marijuana rhetoric, came to the positive but cautious conclusion that “that the sociological, psychological, and medical ills commonly attributed to marihuana have been found to be exaggerated insofar as the City of New York is concerned.” The research which forms the basis of the study was conducted with methodological care; my personal highlight was the use of a Jack Benny radio program to test sense of humor under the influence of marijuana.  The sociological and medical findings on the effect/non-effect of marijuana are still valid today, and the report concludes by noting and reminding its readers that marijuana had medical uses as an exit drug.

According to Hallmark, the traditional gift for a 40th anniversary is a ruby. But the obvious gift for this anniversary is reform of New York marijuana laws or at least passage of a medical marijuana bill.

 

May 5, 2014 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, April 14, 2014

420 Archive or The End of Marijuana Legalization History

The optimist in me is starting to think that someday the effort to legalize marijuana in the US will be a piece of [successful] history and a piece of history that should be preserved.

So, I was very happy to find out about the 420 Archive at the ASA [Americans for Safe Access] conference in DC lastweekend. The mission of the 420 Archive ,which is in the throes of becoming a 501(c)(3),is

 To research, collect and preserve for public enrichment the history, activism and culture of 20th and 21st century U. S. cannabis production and marijuana prohibition with an emphasis on California and the western United States.

The 420 Archive will seek out oral histories and documents related to this mission, help other organizations archive their collection and in 10 to 15 years or so hand over their collection to an institution that will maintain the material permanently and go out of business.

Oral histories from legal pioneers and legal materials should be part of this archive. But which legal pioneers? Keith Stroup from NORML is one of my nominations but what about the unknown public defenders and criminal defense attorneys who helped clients on possession charges?  California's Proposition 215 must be there but what will be the last legal document in the archive, the one just before "The End"? The fiftieth state's law allowing adult recreational use?  The federal law amending the Controlled Substances Act to remove marijuana from  Schedule I? 

What would you include in the 420 Archive? Looking forward to your comments. 

 

April 14, 2014 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (1)